Sunday, January 17, 2016

one’s resistance to dwelling with Heidegger

When I began reading Peter Trawny’s book, Heidegger and the Myth of a Jewish World Conspiracy, I already knew (for nearly two years) that his case was invalid. But I’m surprised by how invalid his case is. I finished reading the book (carefully!) because Heidegger’s Considerations (notebooks from 1931-38), will be available in English soon, and I wanted to be sure I was perceiving Trawny’a case about the notebooks fully.

The book gets its title from Heidegger’s flippant response to a paranoid remark by Jaspers which Jaspers didn’t find humorous; and which Jaspers used against Heidegger 12 years later for the de-nazification committee. Trawny’s groupthink claim is that Heidegger secretly endorsed what was obviously a myth, and this is allegedly proven by a few other passing responses to others’ issues by Heidegger over a decade or so, decontextualized responses that are reframed as self-revealing slips by Heidegger which Trawny constellates as diagnostic of Heidegger’s secreted bad faith toward Jews.

In Heidegger’s notebooks (which are tangential to the main work of that era which was compiled into monographic form), he was making notes for shaping a critique of ideology (among other aims), but Trawny thinks that Heidegger is revealing secret biases. There’s much projective identification by Trawny, but showing exactly how that happens would be tedious. But my discussion does get tedious, perhaps, by emphasizing a mode of critique which implicitly echoes psychoanalytical literary criticism (more specifically: suggesting a detailed deconstruction of critical suspicion), but here not yet with detailed evidentiary work (which would be fun, to me).

§1: initial impressions, December 24

His defensive “Preface” to the English edition and the translation of his appended afterwords to the second and third German editions show a writer in a headwind who defends himself defensively, not substantively. I’ve already read enough to be convinced that Trawny (1) is undermining his own argument by clearly (easy to show) misrepresenting what Heidegger is, to himself, seeking to do; (2) representing “Heideggerians” as being scholars in bad faith toward Heidegger in the first place (though Trawny’s scholarship on Heidegger is nothing else than his reading of anti-Semitism where there is none; (3) making his own argument illogically, i.e., his own narrative is self-undermining.

His basic error is not understanding that hermeneutical distance is integral to everything Heidegger writes about how it goes with ideology. In the controversial passages of Heidegger’s Considerations (1931-1938 notebooks to be available in English as Ponderings, April 2016), Heidegger is representing the ideology of techno-modernity, not playing secreted confessional. It’s the ideology of the Catholic-aristocratic power structure of German academia.

Heidegger’s notion of Ge-Stell, later in his career, expresses a concept of critical distancing which is already active for Heidegger in his critical notion of “they-self” and “idle chatter” in Being and Time. So, the passages in the Considerations (the “black notebooks”), which are marginal material relative to the work leading to and following Mindfulness and that are found controversial, are noted by Heidegger there relative to (reframing) techno-modernity’s scapegoating of Jewish citizens as “the Jews” and are relevant to his originating the activity of critique of ideology at the ontotheological level (and post-Dialectically). By the way, “world Jewry” is a Jewish notion of the entire Diaspora (and Heidegger was being sarcastic one night with Jaspers, which has become ontologized by casual readers). Trawny exhibits a common feature of the Cartesian mind: seeing text as expressive of a confessional inquirer, rather than as inquiry motivated by historical phenomena: the ideology of academia that rationalizes techno-modernist notions (which also scapegoat “the Jew”).

§2: the “Being-Historical” “Landscape”, December 27

Trawny’s narrative depends on his grasp of “being-historical,” but he uses a constricted sense of that which is unrelated to Heidegger’s conception of it. Heidegger’s conception is elaborated through Contributions to Philosophy, i.e., the entire Contributions... is explicating that conception.

But Trawny simulates a sense of historiography, not Heidegger’s sense of “being-historical thinking.” Trawny’s notion is not even the sense of “playing forward” in Contributions... that became a reconstructive “history of beyng” (one of the six modes of transformational process that being-historical thinking altogether is thought to be). In Trawny’s narrative “being-historical” becomes his unwitting synonym for “...`Heideggerian’....,” which is Trawny’s understanding of what Heidegger is doing, i.e., Trawny’s “Heidegger.”

No wonder then that Trawny’s narrative gets more and more absurd as he constellates un-contemporaneous passages from Heidegger (extracted from context) with passages from other authors, but doesn’t situate his narrative in Heidegger’s Project (Mindfulness—> History of beyng). He quotes more from others than from Heidegger, as if Heidegger is not in critical touch with his own Project, in his own notebooks (as if unconsciously thrown by historicality that is transparent to Trawny).

At the least, Heidegger’s notebook passages should be read relative to the critical work that they supplement. They are sketches about academic German ideology, pertinent to a critique of techno-modernity at the level of academic metaphysicalism.

But Trawny relates extracted notebook passages extensively to his own speculations and to others’ passages. So, his narrative gets ridiculous. He mistakes Heidegger’s notes (which are for his critique of German ideology in Mindfulness and elsewhere) as expressions by Heidegger of Heidegger’s own beliefs. Actually, Trawny is in contest with the German ideology that Heidegger is trying to frame, not in contest with Heidegger.

Trawny is surely in contest with his “Heidegger,” but the book is clearly the testament of Trawny’s own difficulties with Heidegger, not a work of scholarship on Heidegger’s thinking. Trawny’s “Heidegger” is Trawny’s mirror of his own difficulties constellating items that are invalidly constellated; and struggling with the absurd results, as if that is some weakness in Heidegger’s thinking.

Trawny is in a narrative of his own, which becomes self-undermining in the guise of “Heidegger’s” inability to understand himself. Trawny’s fictional “Heidegger” is constellated into a fiction so bizarre (e.g., the Jews, according to “Heidegger”’s unconsciousness, are causing the war against themselves) that Trawny’s narrative becomes pathogenic—which could be fascinating to psychoanalytically-oriented literary criticism. But that would be about Trawny’s narrative, not Heidegger. Trawny’s book is about his own struggle; it’s not scholarship on Heidegger. It’s a fascinating fiction with lots of long footnotes. No doubt, a lot of work went into constructing the narrative. It’s clear how Trawny understands his topic.

§3: after another reader’s comment, January 3

My comments above are a very revised (edited/expanded) version of what I posted obtusely (spontaneously) under the book’s listing on, December 24. A few days later there, another reader commented congruently: “A very poorly written book and badly expressed argument. The author is in bad need of an editor, it seems the book was rushed to press to profit from all the hullaballoo over the publication of the Black Notebooks. Shame more effort wasn’t put into this, as being so familiar with the notebooks and Heidegger’s heirs, Trawny’s knowledge and insights have been totally squandered. An utterly embarrassing effort (or lack thereof) for someone in his position.”

The real shame is that Trawny puts a lot of effort into his presentation. It is very exactly what he believes, given the elaborate footnotes (many of which are irrelevant, but go to the point of Trawny’s very intent commitment to his narrative). As I noted near the beginning here, Trawny’s added “Afterword”s and “Preface” to the English translation show that his “argument” has not been well received in Germany (rightly so!). This headwind was clearly evident in his attempt to defend his book, April 2014, at the Hannah Arendt Center in Manhatten; that’s part 2 of an event, where part 1 was Trawny’s presentation. Trawny stumbles over the pretenses of “contamination” that he has constellated from unrelated contexts across Heidegger’s marginalia.

Trawny’s strict reliance on a [mis]reading of very few passages from Heidegger’s marginal notebooks causes an embarrassment of repetition across his chapters, not basically because he needs an editor (though I agree that he does), but because his constellating of extracted threads of text from distant documents depends heavily on those few [mis]readings.

If one considers Trawny’s later chapters, discussing Heidegger’s proper concern about “race” talk in academic German ideology and Heidegger’s proper concern for the self-destructive infrastructure of German techno-modernity, it’s clear that those themes are the prevailing context for Heidegger’s passing comments about how German ideology scapegoats “the Jew,” which Trawny inflates to be the prevailing theme (“being-historical anti-Semitism”), as if it’s “Heidegger’s” guilty secret (but actually the guilty suppression of post-War Germans that Trawny’s generation exposed).

In other words, Trawny’s argument for some basic anti-Semitism can be undone with his own discussions, by mapping Heidegger’s concerns, discussed by Trawny in later chapters, into the reading of Heidegger’s passing comments on ideological scapegoating. Then it’s easy to see how indeed Heidegger was concerned, in his notes on German ideology, with ideological scapegoating, which has nothing to do with acquiescence to antisemitism (nor a “jackass” reading of Heidegger’s polemical interest).

In the end, Trawny has explicated his fictional adversary, his “Heidegger”—a book on Trawny’s proper difficulty with the awful German ideologies of his parents’ and grandparents’ eras, a concern that Heidegger’s academic contemporaries could not bear to appreciate, while also Heidegger implicitly prospected invention of deconstructive intellectual history (before Intellectual History became a career option emergent from Platonic “History of Ideas” after WW-II); and he prospected invention of a critique of ideology beyond self-destructive dynamics of Negative Dialectics. But that’s a world of engagement that Trawny doesn’t imagine.

[This is part of the project on Heidegger and surviving nazism.”]